7 April 2020
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The gentle art of persuasion

One thing we all do in varying degrees is try to persuade others to see our points of view, whether it be a customer in your store, your employee who sees the world differently to you or maybe your adult children who think you’re plain wrong on some, or worryingly, most subjects of importance!

I started thinking about how important persuasion is in our life and how we use our heart and our heads to try and get someone to see the world the way we see it. Then it occurred to me that most of us fail! So, I thought it was time to look into the science of persuasion to see if empirical research might be able to teach me a lesson or two.

A few years back, the website Entrepreneur looked at influence and how people can be persuaded to buy into your point of view. The source of the work was UK-based Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the popular book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

In business, customers love it when they think they’re getting something just for them. And they love it more if it’s scarce, which means it makes them feel special. It works triple for a business if the customer really trusts the product, the service and the people behind the brand.

Think about the value of Richard Branson behind his brand-building of Virgin, which was often based on him basically saying that monopoly record companies or airlines are ripping you off and I’ll give you what you want at a fair price.

When John Symond invaded our lives in the early 1990s, he delivered really cheap loans, which we loved. We learnt to trust him via his great line: “At Aussie, we’ll save you.”

These guys were great influencers or persuaders. What can we learn from these experts in their fields?

Let’s go through the strategies that increase the chances of a ‘yes’ from a customer, and employee or a troublesome relative:

Reciprocity (which is the obligation to give back) generally works, though I must say I have been staggered by some people who just don’t appreciate the act of giving. Research has shown that if a waiter gives a mint to a customer at a restaurant, the tip increases by 3% but if he gives two mints, the tip goes up to 14%!

But wait, there’s more. If he says with the second mint: “But for nice people, here’s another”, the tip goes up by 23%!

The conclusion from Cialdini was the better response was not influenced by what was given, but how it was given. Simon Sinek says we are always more influenced to buy by the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ and it explains why we often say “it just feels right.”

Scarcity is another way we can win people over. When British Airways cut the London to New York service from twice to once daily on the Concorde, sales went though the roof. In reality, nothing had changed except that the service had become more scarce.

Obviously, authority works when it comes to influence. Just look at how people change their lives if a doctor tells them they will be dead meat if they don’t change their lifestyle.

And how’s this as an act of successful business influence? A letting agency in the UK had its receptionist tell a potential client about her colleague’s credentials before putting them through on the phone. So she might have said: “Jack has 20 years of property management experience and last year won Agent of the Year for the Yorkshire district …”

The research showed the company had a 20% rise in appointments and a 15% jump in signed contracts!

Cialdini found consistency can be a powerful influencer as well. He cited a case of a street in a suburb where there were significant traffic problems. The residents weren’t prepared to display “drive safely” signs in their front yard. However, in another nearby street, four times as many owners did play ball. How come?

The reason was 10 days before this latter street decided to support the sign campaign, they had been asked to show a small card in their front window as a sign of support for the initiative. The small card was the initial commitment that led to a 400% increase in the support for bigger “drive safely” signs at the front of properties.

The lesson is to ask small first to get buy-in, and then ramp up the request!

Finally, you have a lot more chance winning over someone if you like him or her. Leftish-leaning ABC viewers would have a natural suspicion of a right-wing commentator like Andrew Bolt because they don’t like his views and probably don’t like him. However, Tony Jones or Leigh Sales would be much better influencers for obvious reasons.

The key question Cialdini poses is: “People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they like. But what causes a person to like someone?”

Two business schools took their MBA students and put them through a pitch situation with potential clients. The first group was told to adhere to the old “time is money” mantra and get straight down to business. This group reached an agreement with 55% of potential customers.

The second group was told to get personal before the negotiations and try to find common interests. Here, the success rate was a huge 90%!

The big lesson is: to build up your likeability, look for areas that you share with others and try to give genuine compliments before getting down to the business of negotiation.

The final weapon in your influence or persuasion arsenal is to play the consensus card. Hotels do it to us when we go into their bathrooms. They link a respect of the environment to asking us to think about reusing their towels rather than expecting a new clean set of towels each day.

Research has shown that this positively affects 30% of hotel guests but if you change a few words, the take up rate spikes! When the hotel says “75% of our guests reuse their towels”, the consensus effect kicks in and reuse rises by 33%.

I think science has shown me a great process to enhance my persuasion skills and my influence.

In his great book The 21 Laws of Leadership, author John Maxwell numbers the Law of Influence as the number two law. The first is the Law of the Lid, which says that the leader of a business, family or team is limited by their own qualities. And that’s why I want to get better at influence and persuasion.

On influence, Maxwell says: “The true measure of leadership is influence — nothing more, nothing less.”

Maxwell always argues that great leaders actually serve their followers by bringing them on and by helping them to develop but it can’t be just about giving because the world is full of takers.

Somehow, the great leaders teach their followers to be givers too and I think the six scientific suggestions above could help that happen.

Bob Dylan once sang:

You may be a construction worker working on a home

You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome

You might own guns and you might even own tanks

You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You're gonna have to serve somebody.”

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